Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Turning on the TAPS in Turkey!

Hi Everyone!

I know it's been a really long time since I last blogged (January - to be exact) and many of you (or maybe none of you) may be wondering what happened to this little H Face? Well in a nutshell, I left the slums of Slovakia, spent two great months in Italy (near Venice) and then took off for Turkey.

I had a few good beer in Italy (although they were mostly Guinness), I tried a few local craft brews like 32 and they were very good. The best mass-produced beer (in my opinion) was Pedavena. They also serve the draft beer in boot-shaped glasses (you know, Italy is in the shape of a boot, hee hee)

Anyhoo, after Italy, I took off for Turkey, Izmit to be exact. Izmit you say? Yes, Izmit. It is a medium-sized city that's about one hour from Istanbul. The beer selection here is just so-so. There are a couple of decent local beers (Efes and Marmara) but generally the selection here is very limited.

So I was very surprised when a few weeks ago, on a trip to Bostanci (which is an Istanbul suburb), I discovered TAPS, a local microbrewery. Of course I had to go there for lunch and a pint or two! In the picture above you see little me trying a pint of TAPS pilsner which is a classic Czech style Pilsner. It was very good and fresh but a few more hops would have taken it to an excellent rating. I also tried a Vienna style lager which was good too. The best beer on tap that day was their Hefeweizen, a German wheat beer. It was delicious and the perfect beer for a warm summer afternoon! On the way out (a little bit tipsy!) I asked the brew master to take a photo of me in front of one of the fermentors and here it is below.

TAPS rotates their draft selection and because of this I needed to go back a few more times. On subsequent visits, I tried a Rauchbier, another German beer - this one is a smoked beer which is made using malt that is dried using open fires which gives the malt (and the finished brew) a smoky flavour. I really liked this beer. I also tried an Amber Ale and a Golden Ale.

The best part is that you can also buy bottles to take home. TAPS sells their Red Ale and Kolsch in six packs. I guess I should also mention that they serve good food too. However, there's nothing wrong with a liquid lunch!

If this blog sounds like a paid advertisement for TAPS, it isn't. Although it should be. In a huge, world-class city like Istanbul you would think that the beer scene would be at least good. It's not. So when you see a place like TAPS, you really need to sing their praises. Now hopefully with the winter coming, we'll see a dark ale or maybe even a stout! That means it will be time to go back to TAPS. Cheers!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Tale of Purity and a Pint of Amber Nectar (or no Kangaroos in Austria)

Hello and HAPPY New Year to my loyal (that's two) readers. Before I explain my blog title in more detail, I want to talk about beer. Yes, Another beer blog.

Well you might think that all I write or blog about is beer. Now while that may be true, I truly am a very big beer fan. Recently my travels took me to Vienna, Austria's beautiful capital city. Whilst I was there, I visited the 1516 Brewing Company. The 1516 is a very cool brewpub that, of course, brews it own beer on the premises but also has great food.

First of all, why is the place called the 1516 Brewing Company? Well, the pub takes its name from the Beer Purity Law of 1516. More popularly known as the The Reinheitsgebot Law which translates as "purity order", and is often called the "German Beer Purity Law". It is a regulation concerning the production of beer in Germany. According to the law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley, and hops.

The law originated in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria on April 23rd, 1516. Before its official repeal in 1987, it was known as the oldest food quality regulation in the world. The penalty for not following the law was also set in the Reinheitsgebot: a brewer using other ingredients for his beer could have questionable barrels confiscated with no compensation. I wonder what they did with those barrels?? The law also set the price for beer.

Now what about that other essential ingredient in beer making: yeast?? Yeast was never mentioned in the Reinheitsgebot because it was not until the 1800s that Louis Pasteur (Mr. Pasteurization himself) discovered the role of microorganisms in the process of fermentation; so before then, yeast was not known to be an ingredient of beer.

The Reinheitsgebot is no longer part of German law: it was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law of 1993, which allows other ingredients prohibited in the Reinheitsgebot, such as wheat malt and cane sugar, but no longer allows unmalted barley.

German breweries, as well as brewers around the world (including Vienna's 1516), are very proud of the Reinheitsgebot, and many (even brewers of wheat beer) claim to still abide by it. Many beer aficionados still believe brewers who step outside of the law (like those who make wheat beers) should not be allowed to claim that they adhere to the law (even if they brew other beers that follow the law) because wheat wasn't part of the original law... whew!! This is certainly open to different opinions and interpretations.

Now at the 1516 Brewing Company they do adhere to the purity law and make excellent unfiltered lagers and ales (I should now, I've tried them all!). The 1516 Lager is crisp and way too easy to drink (thank goodness they sell it in pitchers) they also make a Belgian Trappist ale, a German Dunkel, a smooth Stout, a Wheat beer (ooops! there's the wheat exception again!), and my personal favourite, their own version of Victory Hop Devil India Pale Ale. The recipe was created by the head brewer of Victory Brewery in the US. He even brewed the first few batches for the 1516 in Vienna. It has a wonderful hop after taste and is an excellent and highly recommended choice when (or if) you visit.

Ok, back to my blog title. You now know about the purity so ...

While walking to the 1516 Brewing Company I came across the "Australian Bar" which proudly sells Fosters, referred to as the amber nectar - ah, there's the second reference. I have never been a big fan of Foster's, although they were one of the first breweries that I can think of that had King Cans for sale in Canada (they were huge and very hard for me to carry - I needed a hap sized handcart!) I can very confidently say that the beer at the 1516 is far superior. I know that may be like comparing apples to oranges or even possums to kangaroos. Kangaroos you say? Do they have Kangaroos in Austria? Well, they do have a couple in the Vienna Zoo but what zoo in a first-class city wouldn't?

Anyhow, in almost every tourist gift shop merchants sell t-shirts, as well as, mugs, hats and even beer glasses that say "No Kangaroos in Austria". I guess tourists often confuse Austria with Australia. Or more likely, they're making a play on words. I will say one thing: you certainly won't confuse the beers. You can thank the city of Ingolstadt for that. However, I'm not sure if they have kangaroos there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How much does an HFace weigh?

Well I know it's been a long time since I last blogged and I can't wait to tell you about my new adventures in Eastern Europe (well there really aren't that many) but first I wanted to share with you something that caught my Hap eyes on the internet:

Sponsor Cruzcampo gives each player their weight in beer for winning the football championship in June.

Hmmm... I was intrigued and of course I read on..

Spain will be rewarded for winning the European Championship with beer. The Spanish football players will each receive their weight in beer (Holy crap!) from sponsor Cruzcampo after winning Euro 2008 at Austria and Switzerland in June. Sounds like a fantastic incentive to me!

The heaviest player, Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina, will receive 95.6 kilograms of beer, while the lightest squad member, Villarreal winger Santi Cazorla, will get 70.4 kilograms.

In total, the 23 players will receive 1,742 litres of beer, or the equivalent of 5,200 bottles. Wowsers! That's a lot of beer! I wonder if they're providing glasses too or will players just drink from the Euro Cup?

Now I decided to weigh myself to see how much free Cruzcampo I could expect to receive but unfortunately, even soaking wet, I weigh in at at less than 100g which may guarantee me a thimble of beer. Mind you, I don't play football nor did I win the Euro Cup but I did cheer for the Spanish team. That must count for something. Please Cruzcampo can you help a little H Face out here?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kingly Thoughts on Tapas

A week ago, my travels through sunny Spain took me to the beautiful town of El Puerto de Santa Maria. It is one point in the famous Sherry Triangle which connects with Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. These three places produce all of the sherry in the world. In El Puerto I visited the famous Osborne bodega. They make amazing sherries and brandies but you might know Osborne from hearing about or seeing the huge black bull signs along the highways of Spain. They are an incredible sight.

After the tour of the bodega I was offered (and accepted - hic!) plenty of samples of sherry and plates of olives and potato chips. These plates are referred to as tapas. Tapas? More on than in a moment. Before I left I had to have my picture taken with one of the famous bulls. It was a bit tricky holding on after a dozen samples!

Tipsy bull riding!

In addition to sampling sherries and eating, I walked around the town and came across Castillo de San Marcos which was built by the Moors in the 13th century (as a watch tower and mosque) and then taken over and rebuilt (as a castle) by Alfonso X. The castle today, ironically is owned by the Callabero bodegas. Outside the castle is a statue of the king, also known as Alfonso the Wise. I had my picture taken with him (as seen below) Many also refer to him as Alfonso the Tapas King. Tapas you say?

Me and the Tapas King

Anyone who has ever visited Spain will be familiar with tapas. If you're not, I offer a small history.

Tapas is the name given to a wide variety of appetizers in Spanish cuisine. They can be cold or hot, they may be small dishes of meat, seafood, olives, tortillas (Spanish omlettes) or potato chips and they may even be vegetarian (usually bread with cheese and tomato).

The legend of tapas, like many legends, has a few different versions. According to one, the tapas tradition began when Castile's King Alfonso the Wise (Mr. Tapas himself - with apologies to the late Joe DiMaggio) recovered from an illness by drinking wine and nibbling small dishes between meals. Once he felt better (the wine I'm sure was better than any medication!) the king ordered taverns to serve their guests food along with wine, and tapas was born!

According to the famous book The Joy of Cooking (although one might argue that another Joy of book - I'm sure you know which one I'm referring to - is more famous!) the original tapas were slices of bread which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This prevented fruit flies from flying into the sweet sherry. Soon, enterprising bartenders were putting small snacks on the bread, and the tapas (from the Spanish tapar, "to cover") became just as famous as the sherry.

Now others believe that the name originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners from Castilla - La Mancha (or Don Quixote country) found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it, and started offering free cheese when serving cheap wine. Kind of like offering free peanuts or nachos or chips when serving crap draft beer (think American Budweiser).

Yet another popular explanation says that another king, Alfonso XII stopped by a famous inn in Cadiz where he ordered a glass of sherry. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham to protect the wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking his wine and eating the tapas, ordered another sherry "with the same cover".

So whichever story you believe, one thing is certain, there is nothing like sitting in a bar sipping on a fino or manzanilla sherry and having a nice (veggie please!) plate of tapas. One thing I think we can all agree on is that king Alfonso X was very, very wise!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hopping to Gibraltar

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Gibraltar. In case you didn't know, Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located near the southern most tip of the Iberian Peninsula which overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar. It shares a border with Spain and the crossing between the two areas is quite easy (at least since 1985 when the Spanish government reopened the border after almost thirty years of isolating the Rock).

Gib (as its known to locals) is a little taste of Britain with a Spanish accent and a small dash of Morrocan Arabic. There are British pubs, Marks and Spencer, Morrison's, etc.. But there are also tapas bars, pharmacias and restaurants that serve tagine and couscous. Most Gibraltarians speak English and Spanish fluently and almost all conversations consist of going back and forth between the two languages.

Now while this all very interesting, one of the real highlights for me is the opportunity to sample the British and Irish ales you can find here in Gib. There are of course the usual standards: Guinness, Murphy's, John Smith's, Fuller's London Pride and San Miguel (which is not British I know but available almost everywhere) but there are also other fine ales like Greene King IPA, and Bushy's Gibraltar Barbary Beer.

Gibraltar beer?

Yes, Gibraltar Beer. Well..not exactly. Let me explain:

Bushy's Brewery (now called the Mount Murray Brewing Company) based on the Isle of Man (yet another self-governing British territory) decided in November 2002 to brew a special bottled beer for the Gibraltar market. The beer proved to be highly popular with locals and visitors alike. Who wouldn't want a souvenir beer when they travel? Forget the t-shirts and postcards. Anyway, Martin Brunnschwieler (Bushy's Owner) and his wife visited Gib after the launch of the beer and formed a partnership with the Botanical Gardens. It was agreed that the gardens would grow hops for the Gibraltar beer. The brews that followed would be the first ever ales to contain hops grown on Gib.

Needless to say, I had to buy a few bottles...

..and then of course drink them!
The aroma is sweet and malty with the slight bitterness of the Gib hops. The colour is amber and it has a white disappearing head. The flavour is of roasted malt and the carbonization prickles the tongue and even though I don't have a tongue I found the beer most enjoyable.

So, what started as a beer made on the Isle of Man using only their ingredients, became a hybrid of two territories. Very much like Gibraltar itself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mr. Ball

Hi Everyone, I know it´s been a couple of months since I last posted but it seems to take me (or I should say my blogging assistant) a bit of time to come up with exciting topics for my blog. Today´s blog is actually an homage to my creator (no, not the country of China) Mr. Harvey Ball. Saturday April 12th marked the 7th anniversary of his passing.

Mr. Ball is known around the world as the original designer of the smiley/happy face. The history of the smiley face is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. Mr. Ball came up with the design (or as we H Faces say ¨created us¨) in 1963. At that time he was an artist and freelance designer who was hired by State Mutual Life Assurance Company. The company had recently merged with another company and the merger resulted in very low employee morale. In an attempt to solve this problem, Harvey Ball was asked to create a smiley face for a staff campaign to be used on buttons, desk cards, and posters. In less than ten minutes he created the smiley face.

The goal of the campaign was to get employees to smile at work. And it did work. The buttons were highly popular and in 1971 more than 50 million Smiley Face buttons were sold! The smiley (and of course ME) then became an international icon. Mr.Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright of the smiley and received just $45 for his work (I think he was ripped off!). Mr. Ball said he never regretted not registering the copyright.

Mr. Ball founded The World Smile Corporation in 1999. The corporation licenses Smileys (I pay 10 Hap Dollars a year to keep my Hap Permit - just kidding!) and organizes World Smile Day. World Smile Day raises money for the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a non-profit charitable trust which supports children's causes. It´s held on the first Friday of October each year and is a day dedicated to "good cheer and good works". The official slogan for the day is "Do an act of kindness - help one person smile". That´s something I try to do every day!

You can see me with Mr. Ball in the top right of the first photo. It was the only time I met him and it was an incredible honour for me. When he died it was the only time I truly cried. In fact all of the smiley faces did.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy New Year and a Shout at the Devil!

As the title would suggest (and of course the date header of this post) it is a new year. It's a Happy New Year. Of course I do take exception to the fact that my name is used in the title of a major holiday and I have actually never given anyone consent to use my name. I guess that's for my lawyers to sort out. The last months of 2007 were very busy for me (after all, I'm just a little H Face); I travelled to Toledo (see my photo in the post below), Segovia, Malaga, Nerja, Jerez and Cadiz. Phew!

Segovia was a beautiful city. Well what I could actually see of the city. It was very foggy and cloudy. However the sun made a rather brief appearance and allowed for an excellent photo op with me and its famous Aqueduct. For those of you who don't know, the Aqueduct is one of the most significant and best-preserved monuments left by the Romans on the Iberian Peninsula. It is also shrouded in some mystery. This is where the second part of my blog's title comes into play.

According to a popular legend, sloth (something I've been accused of being), rather than the Romans, was responsible for the construction of the aqueduct. A woman who worked as a water carrier (that job would suck!), tired of carrying her pitcher through the very steep streets of the city, made a deal with the devil: the devil could take her soul if water arrived at her doorstep before the rooster crowed. That evening, a great storm fell upon Segovia. The townspeople thought that this was a normal storm but the woman knew that it was the devil working to keep his part of the bargain. Now apparently, this lady freaked out! So she repented and prayed all night to avoid fulfilling the pact. I guess her praying paid off because according to the legend, the rooster crowed just before the devil could lay the final stone and yippee!! - the woman's soul was saved.

The woman confessed her sin to the Segovians who, after spraying the arches with holy water, were happy (the legend's word not mine although the italics are) to accept this new addition to their city. Convinced that a miracle had saved the woman's soul, statues of the Virgin and Saint Stephen were placed atop the aqueduct in commemoration. If you ask me it would have been easier to just order water coolers from the delivery service except that they wouldn't be invented until 1938.

Until my next careful what you wish for and Happy New Year! (2008 registered trademark pending - H Face Inc.)